Football: Manchester United 'frustrated' by shutout of fans as revenues decline

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær at the club's Old Trafford ground.
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær at the club's Old Trafford ground.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward on Wednesday (Oct 21) branded the mixed messaging of the UK government "frustrating" as the impact of closed doors games showed in the English giants' latest financial figures.

United posted a £23 million (S$40.8 million) loss for the financial year to June 30 as revenues fell due to the coronavirus pandemic and a lack of Champions League football.

Matchday revenue fell by nearly 20 per cent, but there is likely to be a much steeper fall next year with no return of spectators to stadiums in England in sight.

Restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19 have been ramped up in recent weeks with Manchester one of the worst hit areas in England.

However, Woodward pointed to inconsistencies in the government guidelines that are allowing indoor entertainment to continue, while fans are shut out from football stadiums.

"While we recognise public health must always be a priority, what is needed is a consistency of approach," Woodward said in a conference call with investors on Wednesday.

"If people are allowed to sit in an aeroplane for hours, or in a cinema, or even watch football in a cinema, then why are they not allowed inside a stadium environment which is professionally managed and controlled? If indoor concerts are allowed, why should outdoor socially distanced football fans be treated differently?

"Fans are the bedrock of this game and some of the inconsistencies out there are frustrating for them and for the clubs."

United's overall revenue crashed by £118 million to £509 million as the 2019-20 season was halted for three months and then resumed behind closed doors.

The majority of that drop came from broadcasting income with a £101 million fall off due to playing in the far less lucrative Europa League and a £14 million rebate to broadcasters because the Premier League was not completed as scheduled.

However, around £30 million of TV revenue will be accounted for in the current financial year as the season was finished in July and August.

The Red Devils' wage bill fell nearly £50 million as player salaries were reduced for failing to qualify for the Champions League and high earners such as Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku were offloaded.

United and Liverpool were behind plans for a sweeping reform of English football that would have given the biggest clubs more power in return for a sharing more broadcast revenues with clubs lower down the football pyramid.

That plan was swiftly rejected by other Premier League clubs, but Woodward put pressure on the English top-flight to come up with fresh proposals.

"We are pleased that the Premier League has committed to work together on a plan for the future structures and financing of English football," he added.

"Now it must deliver on that promise and we are committed to playing a leading role in pushing that process towards a successful outcome."

Woodward claimed to "not know" where a report on Tuesday for a European Premier League had come from, pointing instead to ongoing negotiations around a restructure of the Champions League from 2024.

But he strongly defended the club's spending in the transfer market despite criticism from fans for a lack of signings after a dreadful start to the season.

United signed Donny van de Beek and Alex Telles, as well as picking up veteran striker Edinson Cavani on a free transfer.

But Woodward believes no other club has a higher net spend since the 2019 summer transfer window as United have also recruited Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Bruno Fernandes for major fees.

"Our net investment since the summer of 2019 is over 200 million euros, more than any other major European club over that timeframe," he said.

The mood around Old Trafford has been lifted thanks to a 2-1 win away to Paris Saint-Germain to open their Champions League campaign on Tuesday.